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Yellowjackets’ Liv Hewson Fears for the Future of Van and Taissa

Photo: Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic

Spoilers ahead for the season-one finale of Yellowjackets.

By the time the Yellowjackets first-season finale ends, team captain and high-school royalty Jackie is dead, her best friend, Shauna, is in mourning, and Lottie’s visions have led her to take on the mantle of Antler Queen in the 1996 timeline. Standing behind Lottie as the first two followers of her burgeoning cult are equipment manager Misty, whose deranged tendencies play a pivotal role in the present-day story line, and goalie Van (Liv Hewson), who’s escaped death multiple times since her high-school soccer team’s plane crashed in the Canadian wilderness.

“She’s been through the wringer a bit, hasn’t she?” says Hewson of their character, who survives the initial crash, being trapped in her plane seat as fire blooms behind her, and a wolf attack that might be related to the actions of her best friend turned girlfriend, Tai. But Van’s steadiness hides layers of vulnerability, says Hewson, and a deep concern with how weird things are getting during the team’s lost months. They spoke with Vulture about Van’s season-long arc, the future of her relationship with Tai, and acting with the mysterious hunter in Jackie’s dying dream sequence.

How do you think Van would describe herself?
Van is honest but not communicative. When we were filming the pilot, I had a limited amount of information about her because we didn’t know what was going to happen in the season. Right from the beginning, I was like, What are the things I know about this person? I know she’s the goalie, so what does that tell me? That she’s probably defensive, protective, watches very closely, sees herself as separate, perhaps — maybe feels a little isolated. I know she’s funny, I know she probably deflects with humor, and I know her home life is really troubled, and she probably does a lot of parenting herself, keeping herself in check and upright on her own. She’s no-nonsense, comfortable with taking control of her circumstances, comfortable with her own aggression — but I don’t think she makes herself vulnerable with the team very often. You never see her talk about her home life with anybody, even Taissa. There’s this insecurity of, No one is looking out for me. I’m funny, but don’t look too close. I’m good. There are walls up that make her quite vulnerable when everything falls apart in the wilderness.

What is it about Van that makes her open to believing Lottie could be clairvoyant or psychic, or however you want to describe what’s going on there? 
Ashley and Bart told me at the beginning, “We think of Van as superstitious in the way an athlete is superstitious” — probably doesn’t wash her socks on game day, probably has a certain color she wears for good luck. Jock superstition. Also, I don’t think Van responds well to dismissiveness. She pays very close attention, she can be a natural caretaker; she’s maybe a little vulnerable to co-dependence. Lottie is the only person from Van’s perspective who is willing to engage with the fact that something is really wrong. The compass is acting weird, the seance was fucked up, this is strange, and nobody’s talking about it. And Taissa makes Van feel stupid for asking, and nobody else is willing to engage with it. I think Van is really worried about Lottie, and it strikes Van that Lottie is really worried about her. Lottie is one of the only people over the course of the season who goes out of their way to engage with Van about how scary this is and show an interest in actually protecting Van.

A lot of the Yellowjackets have their own preexisting baggage. Shauna is pregnant, Taissa might be possessed, Lottie has whatever she’s dealing with. It feels like Van is coming with the clearest perspective; she is purely reacting to whatever is happening in the moment, like with the symbol and the river.
Van would consider herself to be clear-eyed about it. I don’t think she is. She’s insecure, she’s embarrassed easily, she deflects with humor and worries the team doesn’t care about her very much, and she feels alone a lot. But she would never talk about that with them. That’s part of the reason there’s ongoing tension between her and Jackie — those are two characters who will never admit they’re embarrassed or guilty or vulnerable. That’s part of why that enmity stays. They both react by lashing out.

From Van’s perspective, it’s like, “You left me on the plane!” 
One hundred percent. That’s an ongoing theme with Van, this real sense of abandonment: “You left me in the plane. You pushed me out of the way of the propeller because you felt bad about leaving me in the plane.” Taissa was going to leave Van behind. If Van hadn’t insisted on coming with her, Taissa wouldn’t have said anything. I think that makes her really vulnerable to being sucked into whatever is gonna happen next with Lottie. It’s like, “You’re scared as well? You’re worried about me as well? I’m scared and I’m worried about you, and I don’t know what to do.” By the end of this season, Van has this real sense of being out of options and not able to buckle down and be headstrong anymore.

What went into filming the wolf-attack scene?
The body you see being dragged around by an actual wolf is obviously not me. That’s wolf trainer Gerry Therrien, who’s worked with wolves for a long time and is trained and qualified to do that. My physical involvement with the wolf scene was sitting in a makeup chair for hours and coming to set, watching the others do their thing, then lying on the ground with a fake piece of skin hanging off and green paint on my cheek. And Van is unconscious for the wolf attack, so for her, it’s a blur of fear and horrible feelings. But I don’t think she knows Taissa woke up in a tree; I don’t think Taissa ever tells her. From Van’s perspective, it’s just this horrible thing that happened and there was nothing anybody could have done.

Van falls asleep wearing the bone necklace, and Tai wakes up with it on. There’s no reconciliation of the fact that Tai, even if she was possessed, broke Van’s confidence and took it.
You see when Taissa is carrying Van back to the cabin afterward — it says in the script, and I think you can see it in the scene when we collapse on the ground — Van stares at the necklace on Taissa’s chest. So from Van’s perspective, it’s like, When did you take that? Why would you take that if you don’t believe in it, if you think I’m so silly for having it? Why would you do that to me? I think this is going to be an ongoing problem for Van and Taissa: They don’t talk. They certainly don’t argue. I don’t think Taissa knows about Van’s mother; I don’t think Van knows about Taissa’s sleepwalking. These are two characters who adore each other but probably for a long time have had a relationship that’s practical: We’re high schoolers in 1996, let’s be sensible about this, and also, let’s have fun. We have a lot in common, we’re both no-nonsense, we’re both really smart, we both think we’re really hot. But I don’t know that there’s a long-term foundation in place for them yet. What are these two like when there’s conflict?

There’s the scene in the 2021 storyline where Tai says that whenever she really feels “it” with someone, that’s a bad thing. You could treat it as a clue that Tai and Van don’t stay together very long, but I also thought it was an admission of how much Tai loved and cared about Van.
I think they do love each other, but they don’t know how to tell each other that.

When I was 16 or 17, I don’t know if I knew how to talk about those things. 
That’s part of what makes their relationship so interesting to me. It’s really sweet and real and quite special, but also very vulnerable. They both have different weaknesses and different gaps in their skill sets, being teenagers around relationship communication, and they’re in a nightmarish situation. It has the potential to go to some really complicated places.

On a lighter note, comparatively, Van’s scar healed so cleanly and her face did not get infected. A lot of viewers were really impressed by that. 
To be fair, Coach Scott’s leg didn’t either, and that man got cauterized with a woodsmoke axe! I think some people got a little thrown off because they thought the injury was a hole, but it’s not. I don’t want to speak about this callously, or in a gratuitous way, but it’s a flap.

Right. There isn’t flesh missing. It was torn to the side and then sewn back over. 

How did that scene come together?
The injury is all practical except for the green screen of the teeth. There are a few versions of that prosthetic, depending on what stage of healing the injury is at. And the scene where Akilah is stitching Van up, that’s real. They made a prosthetic she could really do that to, and Keeya King did an amazing job. For that version, there’s my skin, a plastic plate protecting me, and then the prosthetic on top of that, so she can safely do three stitches on that injury without me being in any danger at all. And Jasmin Savoy Brown is holding my head, so when Keeya would go to do a stitch, Jasmin would press the base of my skull with a finger so I could know when to ramp up how much pain I was in, because I couldn’t feel it at all. I think that scene was scarier for Keeya than for me because it’s more visually frightening for her.

For Van, there is both that physical injury and the emotional confrontation with Tai in the season finale. She really stands up for herself. How did you prepare for that scene? 
I listened to the song “Funeral Singers” by Sylvan Esso a bunch that day. And I was thinking about it less in terms of being angry with her, because I don’t think that’s what it is. It’s like pleading with her: I love you, but I feel dismissed by you about this. I feel like you don’t believe me and you think I’m stupid and weak for believing in this, and that really hurts my feelings. And if that’s what you think of me, then this isn’t going to work, so you better tell me now. Van’s coming into that scene not from a place of anger, but from a place of shame.

And there’s a desire to be seen for who she is right now. With the bone symbol, it feels like Van’s saying to Tai, “You might not believe in this, but I do. Can you respect that?”
“Lottie gave me this because she cares about me. Do you care about me enough to let me wear it?”

Where do you, Liv, fall on the supernatural or not-supernatural element when you’re playing these scenes?
I think everything Van says about it is what she thinks about it. I take all of the dialogue I have at face value. The scene where we find the red water was really informative for me because that’s the crux of it for Van. It is weird that Lottie is dreaming about these things, and you have to acknowledge that it’s weird. It’s weird for you not to acknowledge that it’s weird! I don’t think Van knows for certain either way, but she’s really stuck on how weird it is and how much it keeps lining up. And there’s no alternative at this point.

It’s not in the show, because there’s a massive time jump between episode eight and episode nine, but I keep thinking about what that scene would be like where Van wakes up in the cabin with her face healed and Laura Lee is dead. “Laura Lee tried to leave and died, and we tried to leave and got attacked by wolves. And Lottie dreamt about all these things, and somebody has to talk to me about the fact that this is fucking weird and we’re running out of options.” There’s a real grief that Van doesn’t have a way to process: Laura Lee is dead and Jackie is dead, and we can’t make any right choices and we don’t have anything to eat, and the only person who has answers is Lottie, and you think that makes me foolish? She feels very stuck.

Van is the first person to ask Lottie to pray, she’s the first who says “thank you” to the gods or beings Lottie refers to, and then we see her behind Lottie at the altar. What is Van’s role in starting these rituals?
I don’t know for sure, because I don’t know what the writers have planned, but in my head, I think of Van as a very protective person, and a person who’s not defensive, but defending. I can see her being quite protective of Lottie, and it almost comes back to her role on the soccer team, of taking stock of everything, protecting what’s important, and stepping into action when necessary. That’s how I imagine Van participating in those things.

Something Courtney Eaton spoke about during our chat was the cast theorizing about who is in that opening scene. When we see Van wearing that Co-ed Naked Soccer T-shirt, that’s one of the first big lightbulbs. Was that exciting for you too?
We weren’t in that sequence in the pilot — those were stunt doubles — but we saw the pilot before we started shooting the rest of the show. But by the time we were filming episode seven, I had forgotten that T-shirt, I had forgotten that detail. So when we were at the premiere and we saw the finished pilot, I was like, “Oh my God, I wore that fucking shirt!” I had the same lightbulb moment as the audience.

If there is an adult Van, do you have any dream casting for that character?
I mean, the names everyone’s thrown around are very flattering for me and exciting. I’ve seen people suggest Sarah Snook, Lauren Ambrose; there’s a handful of names I’ve seen come up a few times. I don’t know because I’m not used to thinking about it. Usually when you play the younger version of a character, the older version comes first. It’s quite rare that the younger version of a character is the baseline to springboard off, so it’s like a muscle in my brain that I’m not used to using. I also don’t know if there ever will be one.

I’m sure you know there’s a theory that the girls aren’t cannibals at all. Do you have any thoughts on that?
I mean, look. I run through that in my mind, and if we’re doing that, if they’re killing each other for other reasons, it’s still the dead of winter, and food is still scarce. So even if they’re killing people for reasons that aren’t that, why wouldn’t they be eating the bodies? It seems practical, honestly. [Laughs.] The things I find myself saying about this show! I’m like, That is so fucked up, but that’s what I think! I’m like, “You gotta if it’s there, right?”

Have you had a favorite needle drop this season?
Oh yeah, so many. Our music supervisors, Jen Malone and Whitney Pilzer, are geniuses. My favorite is Ultravox’s “Vienna” at the end of episode three. I love that song, I was really stoked that we used it in the show, and I think it makes that scene sing. And then I loved “Gepetto” by Belly as we’re all entering the Doomcoming, because as we were filming that, it felt quite somber. It’s a party, these girls are throwing a bacchanal, but walking through those streamers on set felt quite somber and sad. But that song and the mood it gives that scene is really fun, and I loved how that changed my perspective on it.

How do you think Santa Clarita Diet’s Abby Hammond would have fared in the wilderness?
That’s a worry, isn’t it? [Laughs.] She’d be very efficient and practical, but I think she’d be morally compromised and quite unwilling. Abby has a very firm, black-and-white sense of right and wrong, so she would be out there trying to subsist on insects for as long as possible. But she’d be really good at making traps.

I’m going to list a couple of items, and I would like you to rank them in terms of scariness: the wolves that attacked Van, Taissa eating dirt, the ghost of the hunter Jackie sees in the finale, Lottie’s altar, or Misty’s bird Caligula.
I love Caligula! Caligula’s adorable. Lottie’s altar is quite beautiful to me. The imagery of this show is really compelling and I love looking at it, and it’s a fun set to be on. It feels like an art installation.

Taissa eating dirt, very unnerving. The wolves are quite scary. Taissa eating dirt is a little scarier to me, because I worry so much for her as an adult. She’s dealing with it alone, she won’t explain it to her wife, she’s worried she’s hurting her son. It’s terrifying. But the hunter is the scariest for me. That actor, William Charles Vaughan, is so good. He comes in for one day to shoot one scene and delivers one line in a way that made all of us shiver every time. We’re standing there in Jackie’s dream, trying to be, like, smile-y, happy-brain stand-ins, and this guy behind us is scaring the shit out of us every take! And we don’t know what his deal is, we don’t know who this man is. [Laughs.] I assume he’s the guy in the attic, but I’m very nervous about him.


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Yellowjackets’ Liv Hewson Fears for Van and Taissa’s Future